What Germany is doing for Luther’s 500th Anniversary

Stadtkirche_Wittenberg_Marktplatz_mit_Rathaus_11_CGermany has lots going on for the 500th Anniversary year of Luther’s posting of the 95 Theses.  The country has spiffed itself up (though Germany is always pretty spiffy), is sponsoring lots of Luther exhibits, and has launched special non-Luther things to see and do.

Travel writer Rick Steves tells “What’s new in Germany” after the jump.  This includes an exhibit on Luther’s life and times in Wittenberg, an exhibit on Luther’s influence on Germany in Wartburg, and an exhibit on Luther’s global influence in Berlin.

Steves goes on to tell about other good reasons to visit Germany and Eastern Europe in 2017.

At one point, we were discussing sponsoring a Cranach tour this year in conjunction with Lori Lewis and the fans of her Katie Luther opera.  But that possibility has fallen through.  But if you want to be in Wittenberg for the anniversary year, go here. [Read more…]

Luther as populist and freedom fighter

Luther_(Wislicenus)Much of Europe, including Catholics, will be celebrating the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther posting the 95 theses.  But Great Britain, not so much.

The founder of the Church of England, King Henry VIII, hated Luther (who opposed his multiple marriages) and martyred his followers.  Later, when Anglicans became distinctly Protestant, they threw in with John Calvin and the Reformed tradition.

Even though the church followed Luther in adopting the Liturgy and emphasizing the Sacraments–thanks to Wittenberg student Thomas Cranmer–the Anglicans don’t do much with Luther.  So they are mostly skipping the October 31 celebration.

British journalist Peter Stanford, writing in the left-of-center Guardian, thinks that’s a shame.  He says Luther deserves to be celebrated as a populist, a champion of the poor, and the seminal defender of the freedom of speech and the freedom of conscience.  He also says Luther is a key founder of the modern era.  He was also unimaginably brave.

Now I’m not sure Mr. Stanford fully understands the religious significance of Luther, particularly, his recovery of the Gospel, and there are other things he gets wrong.  But you should read his article for an interesting secular perspective on Luther’s cultural influence. [Read more…]

St. Patrick’s confession

5692057805_2a4b7d530b_zInstead of celebrating St. Patrick’s Day by just wearing green, making a big deal about being Irish, drinking green beer, or marching in parades, try reading the works of St. Patrick and reflecting on his Christian faith and convictions.

Observe St. Patrick’s Day this year by reading the great missionary’s own story, as he tells about his life and confesses his faith in Christ.

Read “The Confession of St. Patrick” after the jump.

Also read his beautiful poem/meditation/hymn “St. Patrick’s Breastplate,” also known as “Christ within me, Christ behind me, Christ before me.”

And read our earlier post The True Meaning of St. Patrick’s Day.  Note the link to How the Irish Saved Civilization and reflect, who is going to save it today?
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The liquid bread fast

In the 17th century, a strict order of monks gave up all solid foods for Lent.  So to sustain themselves, they developed a particularly rich version of what they called “liquid bread.”  That is to say, beer.

This was the origin of the Paulaner brewery, which still makes its acclaimed beer.

A few years ago, a Christian  journalist went on an all-beer fast.  Intoxication faded.  Hunger subsided.  And he developed a remarkable “clarity of focus” and devotional intensity.

I suspect that any kind of long-term fasting can have that affect.  (Can anyone speak to this?)

I should add, don’t try this at home!  Most beers today lack the nutritional substance of the old brews.  (The journalist found a special doppelbock.)  And there can be other unintended consequences. [Read more…]

“Welcome, dear feast of Lent”

“Welcome, dear feast of Lent,” wrote George Herbert in a poem on the subject.  Of course, it is not a feast but a fast.  But I know what Herbert means.  Lent, even when celebrated by fasting, gives us lots to feast upon.

I love Lent, which begins today.  I get so tired of my constant self-indulgence.  It really is a form of bondage.  I find Lent strangely liberating.  I don’t do any grand renunciations or meritorious deeds.  Maybe I can work up to those some year.  Right now I just watch what I eat and exercise.  All I do is live more healthily than I usually do.  I can do that for 46 days.  And usually I can carry over a few good habits into the rest of the year.  But saying “no” to myself–not eating the empty carbs even though I’m hungry; keep walking even though my muscles start to ache–is good for me on many levels.

Oh, another thing I do is start some challenging reading project.  This year I am reading  J. G. Hamann.  (More on him later.)

Do you have any Lenten observances that you have found helpful?

Mortification of the flesh

Lent has traditionally been a time to practice “mortification of the flesh.”  That’s another concept we don’t hear too much about today.

But isn’t that Catholic?  An example of that medieval asceticism that the Reformation reacted against?  Not at all.  Reformation Christians also emphasized mortification.  In fact, it’s enshrined in the Lutheran confessions:

“We teach this about the putting to death of the flesh and discipline of the body. A true and not a false putting to death [mortification] happens through the cross and troubles, by which God exercises us . . . .There is also a necessary voluntary exercise. . . .This effort [at mortification] should be constant.”

Philip Melanchthon,“The Apology of the Augsburg Confession,” Article XV, in Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2005), pp. 193-194.

This is pretty much the opposite of the “prosperity gospel.”  God gives us the crosses we have to bear and the troubles of our lives in order to “exercise” us.  Such problems and sufferings drive us to prayer, to greater dependence on God, and thus to the growth of our faith.  Furthermore, we voluntarily mortify ourselves–not doing what we want, depriving ourselves of certain pleasures, denying ourselves for our neighbor–in a “constant” effort at self-discipline.

More on mortification, including its Biblical and theological basis, after the jump.  [Read more…]